Picture this: you are a qualified accountant or perhaps a lawyer.  The partners in your firm have just had a meeting and called all the staff together. They make a sombre announcement: you must all raise your billable hours by 20 per cent, the firm’s revenue is down and it’s up to all of you to put your shoulder to the wheel and bring in more sales. There is a collective groan.

“How do we do that?” asks one of your braver colleagues.

“Well, go join a business networking group,” suggests the senior partner. “Get out from behind your desk and make some new connections. That’s a surefire way to generate more business.”

Your colleague seated beside you says under his breath: “Easy for you to say.”

The reality in business today is that there is more and more pressure for staff in professional service firms to bring in more billable hours. Not only that, with the shape of the economy, there is more pressure on most salesmen to meet what seem like impossible targets at times.

The typical first response is to hit the phones and start calling people, either old contacts or just anyone. The problem with this strategy is the success rate… or should I say the lack of success rate.

The hard facts are that for every 100 cold calls you make, just three people will do business with you. Worse still is the amount of rejection and negativity that making those calls generates. It is demoralising to have to hear “no” 97 times before you get to a “yes”.

Easier way

There is an easier way — doing business by referral. We all know a lot of people. In fact, social scientists tell us most people know a minimum of 250 other people.

Go through your phone contacts right now and I bet you will have more than that in your phone and that’s before we get to your company database of contacts.

So assemble a list of your contacts, and next sort them into three categories or networks — your information network, your support network and your referral network.

•  People in your information network may include people who are or were in your profession, or other members of your professional organisation.

•  People in your support network may include mentors, or people you have mentored, former managers or others you have helped.

•  Finally, your referral network will be made up of satisfied clients, people you have given referrals to or received referrals from and members of a business network group.

Once you have the three lists, choose five names from each list and make contact with them, arrange to meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks after work, whatever is appropriate for that person. The key with the people you choose is that you both share the same target market and you are not in competition with them.

Your contacts’ contacts

Now I want to make this clear right now — you are not going to sell anything to these people. Your aim, in fact, will be to do business with one or more of the 250 people they know.

Arrange a meeting and explain that you are on a mission to increase sales, their sales. Here is a typical explanation I would use:

“Hi Sue, you and I know a lot of people and in fact we both work with the same kind of clients. The best part is we do not compete with our products or services. I think we could help each other in business to achieve more sales. Are you interested in getting more sales? Great, so how about you educate me about the best kind of prospect you want to work with while I take notes.”

Once Sue has described her ideal client, your job is to comb through your database and identify a group of, say, 10 prospects who meet her description. Next, you will agree how you will introduce these people to Sue to see if they can do business together.

Of course, once you have completed this process you can swap. Describe your best clients to Sue, who will reciprocate in kind.  This part of the process is critical to your success. You must be in exchange for this referral system to work. If you help your contacts first, they cannot stop themselves from helping you in return.

Think about how easy this process is versus cold calling. You get introduced to people who are keen to meet you, by someone they know and trust. They are most likely ready to buy and all you have to do is get into a relationship in order for them to purchase from you.

Doing business by referral is simple, though not always easy. Take the time to work your network and you will be rewarded with great sales results.


Article by Lindsay Adams, a referral marketing expert, an international speaker with Training Edge International and the 2009-2010 international president of the Global Speakers Federation. For more information, visit www.trainingedgeasia.com or e-mail Lindsay.adams@trainingedgeasia.com